God blesses and disciplines. He comforts and corrects. He meddles in our affairs. He never leaves us alone. Why should He? He loves us too much to leave us where we are. He wants the best in us and from us. He wants to mature us. Sometimes we resist Him, like a child wanting our own way; we fight Him, thinking we know best. I’m talking about believers. I’m talking about myself.
Jacob was a man with a strong will. His name in Hebrew means heel grabber, or supplanter. Jacob’s life had been marked by self-reliance as he supplanted others for selfish ends. He wanted his way and pushed to get it by whatever means necessary (read Gen. 25-36). God permitted Jacob to have his way for much of his life, but there were turning points where God humbled His servant. Genesis 32 records a turning point where God physically crippled and humbled Jacob.
Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had. 24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man [theophany – God in human form] wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him [God crippled Jacob for life]. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel [Heb. God fights]; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel [Heb. face of God], for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” (Gen. 32:22-30)
Jacob fought a “man” that night, not realizing he was wrestling with God (Gen. 32:28-30). It was God—in human form—who started the fight, and Jacob might have declined the match if he had actually known his opponent. Jacob was accustomed to defeating others, but he lost this time. He lost in a way that together hurt and helped him. He was both crippled and blessed by his Victor. Jacob limped away a better man.
Jacob memorialized the place where God changed his life. He called it “Peniel”, which in Hebrew means “the face of God.” He knew, deep down inside that his encounter with God could have ended his life, and in humility said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved” (Gen. 32:30).
I think the fight shows something about God and believers and the way we are with each other. God sometimes cripples us before He blesses us, and sometimes we fight with God before we realize He’s on our side to help us. We can be so stubborn at times!
Steven R. Cook, M.Div.